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The Cross and Other Jewish Stories by Lamed Shapiro {Excerpt}

The Cross and Other Jewish Stories by Lamed Shapiro {Excerpt}

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Published by OpenRoadMedia
Lamed Shapiro (1878–1948) was the author of groundbreaking and controversial short stories, novellas, and essays. Himself a tragic figure, Shapiro led a life marked by frequent ocean crossings, alcoholism, and failed ventures, yet his writings are models of precision, psychological insight, and daring. Shapiro focuses intently on the nature of violence: the mob violence of pogroms committed against Jews; the traumatic aftereffects of rape, murder, and powerlessness; the murderous event that transforms the innocent child into witness and the rabbi’s son into agitator. Within a society on the move, Shapiro’s refugees from the shtetl and the traditional way of life are in desperate search of food, shelter, love, and things of beauty. Remarkably, and against all odds, they sometimes find what they are looking for. More often than not, the climax of their lives is an experience of ineffable terror.

This collection also reveals Lamed Shapiro as an American master. His writings depict the Old World struggling with the New, extremes of human behavior combined with the pursuit of normal happiness. Through the perceptions of a remarkable gallery of men, women, children—of even animals and plants—Shapiro successfully reclaimed the lost world of the shtetl as he negotiated East Broadway and the Bronx, Union Square, and vaudeville. Both in his life and in his unforgettable writings, Lamed Shapiro personifies the struggle of a modern Jewish artist in search of an always elusive home.
Lamed Shapiro (1878–1948) was the author of groundbreaking and controversial short stories, novellas, and essays. Himself a tragic figure, Shapiro led a life marked by frequent ocean crossings, alcoholism, and failed ventures, yet his writings are models of precision, psychological insight, and daring. Shapiro focuses intently on the nature of violence: the mob violence of pogroms committed against Jews; the traumatic aftereffects of rape, murder, and powerlessness; the murderous event that transforms the innocent child into witness and the rabbi’s son into agitator. Within a society on the move, Shapiro’s refugees from the shtetl and the traditional way of life are in desperate search of food, shelter, love, and things of beauty. Remarkably, and against all odds, they sometimes find what they are looking for. More often than not, the climax of their lives is an experience of ineffable terror.

This collection also reveals Lamed Shapiro as an American master. His writings depict the Old World struggling with the New, extremes of human behavior combined with the pursuit of normal happiness. Through the perceptions of a remarkable gallery of men, women, children—of even animals and plants—Shapiro successfully reclaimed the lost world of the shtetl as he negotiated East Broadway and the Bronx, Union Square, and vaudeville. Both in his life and in his unforgettable writings, Lamed Shapiro personifies the struggle of a modern Jewish artist in search of an always elusive home.

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Oct 14, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/23/2013

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!
 
Lamed Shapiro
THE CROSS AND OTHER JEWISH STORIES
 
!
The Cross
1
His appearance:A gigantic figure, big-boned but not fat, thin really. Sunburned,with sharp cheekbones and dark eyes. The hair on his head was almostentirely gray, but oddly young, thick, lushly grown, and slightly curly. Achild’s smile on his lips and an old man’s tiny wrinkles around the eyes.And then: on his wide forehead a sharply etched brown cross. Itwas a badly healed wound—two slashes of a knife, one across the other.We met on the roof of a train car which was crossing through oneof America’s eastern states. And as we were both “tramping” cross-country, we agreed to do it together until we got tired of each other. Iknew he was a Russian Jew just like me, and I didn’t ask anything else.People like us live the kind of life where you don’t need passports.That summer we saw practically the entire United States. By daywe used to travel on foot, cutting through woods, and bathing in the riverswe found along the way. The farmers provided food. That is, some of them gave, and we stole from the rest—chickens, geese, ducks.Afterwards we’d roast them over a fire somewhere in the woods or on the“prairie.” And there were also days when, with no other choice, we madedo with forest berries.Sleep came whenever night fell: in the open fields or under a treesomewhere in the woods. Sometimes on dark nights we “hopped a train.”That is, we went onto the roof of a car and hitched a little ride. The trainflew like an arrow. A sharp wind hit us in the face, carrying the smoke of the locomotive in bits of cloud, dotted with many sparks. The prairie ran
 
Lamed Shapiro
THE CROSS AND OTHER JEWISH STORIES
 
!
and circled around us, and breathed deep, and spoke quickly and quietly,with a multitude of sounds in a multitude of tongues. Distant planetssparkled over us and thoughts entered and swum about our heads, suchstrange thoughts, wild and open as the voices of the prairie: they seemedeach unconnected to the next, they seemed knotted and linked and ringedtogether. And at the same time, beneath us, in the cars, people sat andreclined, many people, whose path was set and whose thoughts wereconfined; they knew from whence they came and whither they went, andthey told of it to each other and yawned while they would do it, and theywould slumber, not knowing that above, atop their heads, there were twofree birds resting a while on their way. From where? Whither? At dawnwe would jump down onto the ground and go to snatch a chicken or catchfish with makeshift poles.On one of the last days in August I was lying naked on the sand onthe bank of a deep and narrow river and was drying myself in the sun. Myfriend was still in the river and was making such a ruckus that it seemedlike a whole gang of kids were bathing there. Afterwards he got out ontothe bank, fresh and gleaming from head to toe. The brown cross on hisforehead stood out particularly distinctly. We lay on the sand next to oneanother for a little while, lay there and kept quiet. I wanted and didn’twant to ask him what sort of mark that was on his forehead. Finally, I posed my question.He raised his head from the sand and gave me a curious look witha hint of mockery. —You won’t get scared?I hadn’t been shocked by anything for years. —Tell me, I said.

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